What Do You Wish You Had Asked Your MA Vendor?

by Lauren Carlson

CRM Analyst,

9/1/2011

They say hindsight is 20/20. If you’d only known A, B, C, you might have done X, Y, Z a bit differently, right? Unfortunately, the majority of us lack that foresight. As a dedicated wearer of glasses for 17 years, I barely have my regular sight.

Given that we can’t accurately see into the future, as consumers, we often seek out the advice and opinions of our peers. With the Internet and social media, it’s easier than ever to find out what Tina paid for this or why Joe chose that. Logging on to Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other third-party review sites gives us instant access to what other like-minded consumers are saying about the products we are interested in.

We were curious about what marketing automation users would do differently with 20/20 hindsight. In other words, if they could go back and buy their software all over again, what would they have changed? So we polled some software users and asked them: “What questions do you wish you had asked your marketing automation vendor before purchasing?” We outline the questions users wished they’d asked – along with other points to consider below. And hopefully their hindsight will help improve your foresight.

The Four Categories of Questions

While we polled many users, we simplified their responses and singled out the top 10 most popular questions they wished they had asked. Then, we seperated those responses into four categories: integration, support/training, roadmap and maintenance. Below you’ll also find several actual responses from our participants that better illustrate what they learned through the purchasing process. (Note: All individual participants and companies are anonymous.)

Clarifying Communication around Integration

Arguably one of the biggest pain points in any software implementation is integration. Most companies purchasing a new system will have one or more existing systems that the new solution must integrate with. All marketing automation systems will offer some level of integration but the depth varies and is often unclear. This lack of clarity seemed to be a big issue among respondents. Many took integration at face value without inquiring further into the level of integration offered and how the systems “talk” with one another.

“Just knowing that a marketing automation system integrates with CRM isn't enough. You have to understand specifically how the systems work together, especially with leads, campaigns, and opportunities.”

Our respondents indicated these are the questions they wished they’d asked about integration before purchasing their system:

  1. How do the marketing automation and CRM systems work together?
  2. Does the vendor have bi-directional sync between the marketing tool and your CRM software?
  3. If you discontinue using the software how do you get your valuable lead information and lead activity out of the system to load in the next system?

Getting the Service & Support You Need

Vendors love to tout their product as the easiest thing in the world to use. While the marketing may be superb and the web site dazzling, hyped up statements discount the fact that implementing software can be extremely complex – requiring proper training and support in order to achieve that desired “ease of use.” Many buyers reported that they took the vendor’s words at face value, which led to some challenges down the road.

“You have to look under the covers and ask those hard questions about training. What’s really involved and how much will it cost? What’s the average time it takes for one of their customers to get up to speed? And then check it on your own because they’re going to tell you what you want to hear.”

“When you’re ready to send out a campaign and there’s a glitch, you really need someone to call you back in a timely manner. I don’t expect it to be 5 minutes, but I don’t expect it to be 2 days. So that’s another really valuable question that I didn’t ask: What’s your turnaround? They said in the beginning, for the implementation, that I would have an assigned account rep to help me bring up the system and do the integration, but once we turned it on, that person went away. So, I definitely would have had something put into the contract regarding customer service, or at least drilled down to question that component of it.”

When assessing products, be sure to ask the following questions to ensure that the vendor offers the level of training and support you need:

  1. What kind of training is required to get program managers up to speed, and what is the learning curve?
  2. What level is the instruction and is it customizable to meet the level of knowledge that your team currently has?
  3. In terms of customer service, what happens after implementation? Is there something in the contract that can guarantee a set of dedicated reps or a minimum turnaround time for customer service requests?

Matching the Product Roadmap to Your Goals

Sometimes we make promises we can’t keep. The same goes for vendors. They create what they call a roadmap for a product, which outlines a path to indicate where that product is headed in the next few years. The buyers we polled pointed out that some of the products they selected did not follow through on the roadmap. Buyers need to be aware of what is actually available in the product, what is scheduled to come out and whether those features and timelines mirror their company’s own roadmap and goals.

“I went to [a conference] two years ago and was excited by the new interface/platform. To date, it still hasn’t been rolled out.”

“Understand the reality of what version of the solution is being sold versus what is available. We were surprised how much of the presentations we saw were coming soon or in beta and not functionality in production use today.”

According to feedback from our polled buyers, the following questions will help you determine whether the vendor can support your needs, both now and in the future:

  1. What is the vendor’s roadmap for the coming year and how committed are they to delivering on that? (i.e., when they announce a new user interface and how long before it’s actually rolled out?)
  2. Is the solution robust enough to handle your long-term goals?

Maintaining Your System

Purchase and implementation are only the first steps when adopting new software. From there, you have to deal with day-to-day operation of the system. Many buyers don’t think about this post-implementation period, and as a result, they run into some unexpected bumps in the road. Some respondents reported additional costs related to maintenance. Another issue is downtime.

“[Systems] have maintenance windows, even though the vendors will say that they’re SaaS or cloud. When this certain marketing automation tool that I implemented had maintenance windows, all of my landing pages that were hosted by that tool went down. If I would have known to ask about downtime beforehand, I wouldn’t have picked that tool because being a demand gen expert, that’s where my core focus is. I can’t afford to have my landing pages go down.”

It’s important that you understand the maintenance process for your system. Here are some good questions to ask:

  1. How complex is the system to maintain?
  2. How much down-time does the system have and how does that affect your usage of the tool?

Preparing for Your Purchase

It’s important to ask the vendor questions – but taking a hard look at your own organizational attitudes and needs is also necessary to ensure that you are ready for the purchase.

“I think the big gap for us was we did not have a CRM in place. I would tell people that if you’re looking at marketing automation, make sure your CRM is in place and is working well, and that your marketing automation system integrates well with that CRM. Since our integration happened, it’s been a totally different experience. It kind of unlocked the potential of the marketing automation experience.”

“Winning the hearts and minds of the sales force is absolutely essential. They have to have buy-in at all levels.”

“If you’re just getting ready to make the leap, chances are very, very good that the data in your CRM system is atrociously dirty, and doing even simple segmentation is very difficult to pull off if there are no strong data hygiene practices in place.”

To ensure that you are fully prepared to implement a marketing automation system, be sure to investigate these areas of your organization first:

  1. Do you currently have a CRM system in place?
  2. Do you have sales buy-in as well as marketing buy-in?
  3. How clean is your data currently?
  4. What do backchannel references say?

These questions should serve as a guide in your purchase of marketing automation software. Keep in mind, too, that there is no such thing as a dumb question, particularly when your money and resources are on the line. And hopefully if you ask the right questions, you will see the right results the first time around.

Have you implemented marketing automation software in your organization? What questions did you ask before purchasing? Which ones do you wish you’d ask? Let us know in the comment section.

Thumbnail image provided by SMJJP.

 

4 Comments

Great questions and a well-written article Lauren! I’ll be sure to reference these as our current clients consider implementation of MA software. Thank you for compiling this.

Comment by Jennifer Jurgens
09/02/2011
 

Thanks Lauren, I think this is a great summary of the areas to consider in the purchase of a marketing solution. As I have been developing and delivering cloud-based marketing automation products for over 10 years, and currently work for one of the largest providers, Silverpop, I have seen firsthand the old adage that not all solutions are created equal (though it may seem so on the surface). Your list of questions will definately help a buyer uncover the right technology partner that best matches their needs, both current and future. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Will Schnabel
09/02/2011
 

It’s great that articles like this are published — we need more of them.

In 10 years of practicing marketing automation and seeing hundreds of deployments, the number one thing I wish people had demanded was a complete way to determine organizational readiness for the technology.

So many companies buy software because it’s easy to do and justify, but skimp on the organizational readiness work that necessitates a successful deployment. And the time to do the planning is before you buy, because the purchase triggers a ticking clock in the mind of the executive team. And if you don’t show results soon, you’re going to have a problem on your hands.

A ready organization with solid processes in place will be successful with nearly any marketing automation solution. A firm without the pre-planning necessary before implementing automation will almost always fail.

Comment by Steve Gershik
09/12/2011
 

I’m in the conversation a little late, and recognize that no platform will be perfect at first and the learning curve you go through to master it will have its fits and starts. It’s like any IT deployment – but it’s worth it in the long run.

And there may be some competitor’s features or other capabilities that are unique to your way of marketing & selling, and you want those built in to the platform.

I want to point out that no matter what platform you acquire, you should take the initiative to get to know the product developers and customer support people of vendor. Don’t just wait for glitches to happen; take an active role in the direction of the product. Ask if they have a client advisory board that you can participate in. If they don’t, ask if you can they can create one and make you a charter member. CEOs usually like that concept. And it’s been my experience that companies that have a customer advisory board do better than those that don’t.

The point is to work closer with the vendor – ditch the sales guy, he’s looking for his next quota. Get involved with the people who need to know how you’re using their platform; make them partners and make them want to deliver what you need; don’t beat them up; just be firm and tell them you want to help them make it happen. A lot of the Marketing Automation companies are going through the typical growing pains of startup companies, but they’re looking for direction as much as they’re actually leading too.

Comment by Joe Zuccaro
11/12/2011
 

Leave a comment